I need audition advice

I'm looking for MM or high output MC cartridges to audition in the sub-kilobuck range. Preferably around $700. I'm thinking I'll use it on a vpi table, so it must track well in a unipivot tonearm. My list so far is quite short--

1) Clearaudio virtuoso wood

2) Sumiko Blackbird

3) Sumiko Blue Point special (hey, if I like it enough to live with it it's much cheaper than the blackbird)

4) The Grado Master (the high output version.)

Does anyone else have a favorite, or comments on the ones I've already decided to audition?
Tutordennis, my first suggestion would be taking the dollar figure right out of the equation. In fact, let's put it in this perspective: Under $700.00. How's that?

I own a VPI table and have used every cartridge you have mentioned except the new Sumiko Blackbird.

You have already mentioned a couple of the "overachievers" in the under $700 price point. Sumiko BPS kicks ass. Great high output MC. Not an overabundance of low level info, but really well balanced and tight sounding. Imaging is O.K. Not as punchy and dynamic as the Clearaudio Virtuoso, but, the Virtuoso is not as punchy and dynamic as the Aurum Beta S MkII (my present cartridge of choice and not in your list).

The Grado Master and the Clearaudio Virtuoso will run pretty much neck and neck in sonic characteristics. The Virtuoso is very warm like the Grado and slightly more revealing. I find imaging and separation very similar.

Also, another consideration for your list, the Shure V-15x MR. Incredible overall cartridge and will hold it's head high against every cartridge on the list. Not quite as detailed as the Grado and Virtuoso, but so balanced, you can listen for hours on end.

Personally, I have found in the price point we are discussing, a very competitive marketplace. We haven't even scratched the surface. I'm sure you will have many suggestions resulting from this thread, although you have obviously done your homework. But, don't be surprised that at this price point, that you won't be straining to hear the differences between the above mentioned. It's probably more a matter of what sound you prefer.

Now, putting money aside? Can you say Koetsu Rosewood?

Happy Listening, Ed.
Dynavector 20X or Karat. The 20X is available in both a low and high output configuration. The Dynas work really well on the VPI arms.
I am using the Grado Reference Sonata with my Vpi. $416.00 Can't beat that price. Great cart.
I'd personally be very grateful if you bought a Blackbird, which is practically guaranteed to be great, as no one seems to know anything about it beyond what Fremer wrote! Add to our knowledge and write a review! You'd be the first on the block! I'm selfish, I know.

But I've thrown this one out before, and I'll do so again: the Shure V15MRx is a very underrated cartridge which excels at bass, timing, and correct tonality. It plays music, blessed music. There is also the Denon DL-103, which many also swear by, and which seems to have a magical side to it. Just throwing alternatives out there.
Thanks, Ed. You mention a quality that's very important to me--balance. Like everybody else, I'm always looking for the sound I don't hear, if that makes sense. For example, I grew up listening o Vanderstens, and as a result, I really can't analize them. They just sound like music to me. Now, if I could find a cartridge that did the same things for me, I'd be set.
You're Welcome Dennis. I don't know what actual VPI you are presently using, but in general, VPIs can tend to sound in the "warmer" category. Cartridge selection is a synergy selection process. Rule of thumb? Warm + warm = warmer = coloration. I prefer neutral. Neutral = balanced.

I had mentioned price point initially because I have found that my successful cartridge selections generally tend to run in the lower ranges of my allotted budget. The Clearaudio Aurum Beta S Mk.II I am now using, costs less than other cartridges I also own. But to me, is the clear sonic winner. Female voice and acoustic jazz sound so real, it's scary. The Virtuoso wood once again, starts to lean towards the "warm" direction. But I'm not sure if that is the characteristic of the cartridge, or the cartridge plus the VPI.

I also own the original Aurum Beta. Clearaudio seems to have addressed and refined every fallshort of the original Aurum with the new "S" version. It also happens to work extremely well in conjunction with my VPI.

Once again, proof that "costlier" does not neccesarilly represent "better"....... To my ears.

I have arum beta S and VPIscout and am very happy with full rich,detailed sound
How about a Decca London. Be brave - get a a good one, say a new Super Gold and you might ne in heaven
Ed, can you tell us how you found the Aurum Beta S different from the original? I heard the original a couple of times and would agree that it needed improvement. Thanks
4yanx, the best way for me to describe the original Aurum Beta compared to the "S" version was "congested". My original Aurum Beta has a plastic body. The "S" version is lead bodied. The sound stage is more defined. It is almost as if you could walk between the instruments with the "S". The original Aurum Beta seemed as if the musicians and instruments were "piled on top of one another". The lower registers of bass are tighter, snappier, and less wooly. The "S" is extremely dynamic. It would seem that the original had more dynamic "compression" relative to the "S".

Although the midrange, (especially female voice) is extremely natural and "real" with both the newer and older versions, the "S" seems to better define the differences between the louder and softer voice passages. Also, it seems the "S" is more compliant, extracting more of the micro information (breathing, fingers sliding up and down a guitar's fretboard, air passing over a saxaphone's reed, dampening pads on a grand piano's strings, etc).

I'll tell you 4yanx, this thing is very impressive for a MM. I own MCs that cost close to three times the price of this "S", and it is literally impossible to define the differences. I find it to be extremely natural with very little accentuation (if any) throughout the complete frequency range.

The real standout characteristic of the "S" would have to be the dynamics. I was listening to Return to Forever "Romantic Warrior" a few evenings ago. Lenny White, (drums) uses a very tight 12" snare in this particular cut (The Romantic Warrior, last cut, first side). When he hits it, it makes your eyes twitch. Leading edge transients are snappy, and very accurate.

I'm not big on recommendations, but this thing kicks ass. It would absolutely be worth a listen, at the very least. IMHO.

Regards, Ed.